China boasts of 'world-class' uranium deposit discovery, but experts wary

Nuclear industry experts remain wary of China's grand claims for the Inner Mongolia reserve, saying there have been exaggerations in the past

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 06 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 06 November, 2012, 12:04pm


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China announced the discovery of a "world-class" uranium deposit in Inner Mongolia yesterday but kept its exact size a secret.

Some nuclear industry experts said the secrecy could be a deliberate government strategy to add to its bargaining power in negotiations to buy uranium mines in other countries.

The reserve, although the largest of its kind in China, could be small by world standards and insufficient to meet the country's growing demand for uranium given that it is building the world's largest network of nuclear power plants, they said.

Xinhua said it was found in the Daying area, in central Inner Mongolia.

"It is a world-class reserve. It will significantly help the increase of domestic, independent supply," the report, quoting the Ministry of Land and Resources, said. But Professor Jiao Yangquan , the chief scientist of the project, from China University of Geosciences in Wuhan , refused to confirm the "world-class" claim.

"I am not allowed to discuss the size of the reserve," he said.

Jiao led a research team on the site and reported the estimated size of the reserve to senior land ministry officials in July, the university's website said.

Neither the ministry nor its Central Geological Exploration Fund, which funded the project, responded to inquiries.

Some foreign and domestic experts doubted the "world-class" claim, saying China was known as a country with low uranium reserves and that status was not going to be changed by the discovery of a few uncertain sites.

A sales manager with a major foreign uranium trading company in Beijing said the last time China announced the discovery of a "world-class" and "mega-sized" deposit, in Yili in Xinjiang , the actual reserve turned out to be only about 10,000 tonnes.

"I don't think the find in Inner Mongolia will be much bigger this time, partly because the government has a record of exaggeration," he said.

According to the World Nuclear Association, China had reserves of 171,000 tonnes in 2009, only a tenth of Australia's and three per cent of the world total.

It produced 1,500 tonnes last year, while Kazakhstan produced almost 20,000 tonnes. Gu Zhongmao , the deputy director of the China Institute of Atomic Energy's scientific board, said there had been embarrassing exaggerations of uranium reserves in the past with "over-optimistic" claims.

"Most of the uranium reserves that have been nailed with certainty in China are small, of low quality and costly to excavate," Gu said. "That's why Chinese companies are actively seeking to buy uranium mines all over the world. Uranium is [a] non-recoverable resource and the more we can import the better. I don't think that policy will change.

"But any news of large domestic reserves will certainly help as leverage in buyout bargaining."